Larkin Spivey Finding Faith In War

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Poem for the New Year--2011

A British soldier of the Northhampton Regiment spent much of World War II in prisoner of war camps. During his many trials he was comforted by a short poem written by Mary Gardiner Brainard:

I see not a step before me
As I tread on another year,
But I’ve left the past in God’s keeping
The future his mercy shall clear,
And what looks dark in the distance
May brighten as I draw near.

The soldier wrote in his diary:

Through the difficult days of captivity this verse was constantly before me, suggesting, as it did, a brighter path in the distance, to which the course of time—with faith—must ultimately lead me. The full beauty of these words came to me at the close of my last hour of freedom.

This poem is appropriate for any day, but is especially perfect for the first day of the year. This is the time to look forward and not back. The past cannot be changed no matter how hard we wish it, and is truly in God’s hands. Neither do we know what lies ahead, and it is just as useless to worry about that. Jesus’ instruction on this point is crystal clear: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34) What we can do is concentrate on our actions in the present and look forward to the future with a joyful hope. Even though we have problems looming ahead, we don’t have to face them alone. Our Savior walks with us and guarantees us the strength to endure and to overcome. There is no darkness that will stand against the light of his presence.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5,7)

(This story is from a daily devotional in Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas at Khe Sanh

There is no good place to be away from home at Christmas. A hill outside the perimeter of the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh in Vietnam would surely rank high among the worst. On Christmas day, 1967, Sergeant James Oyster stood duty on this far away outpost. Thankfully, it was a quiet day and hot food was brought up to the hilltop by helicopter. The same aircraft took away three friends rotating back to the states, after a sad farewell for those left behind. An airplane flew overhead playing Christmas carols. When the Marines heard “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” several half-joked that they should shoot the plane down. Sergeant Oyster noted his thoughts about all this in his diary:

We’ve been outside all day just kind of messing around and we had a spotter plane fly over playing Christmas carols. Sitting there listening to that was kind of sad: kind of melancholy I think. You know that back home the family is opening the Christmas presents and I hope they are thinking of me. But it is just not the same. This is not the first Christmas I have spent away from home. This is the first Christmas that I was in a position I couldn’t at least get on the phone and call them. But I’m sure they are thinking of me. I hope that they are praying for me, too.

I spent a Christmas day in Vietnam at the Phu Bai combat base with a lot more amenities than those enjoyed by Sgt. Oyster. On Christmas days now, I am surrounded by friends and family with all the comforts of home. For all of us in safe and secure places, it is a time to remember those who are not so blessed. At this moment there are men and women on alert at lonely outposts far from home. Some are in danger. All are lonely. All are missing their families and loved ones. They deserve our thoughts and prayers.

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” ~Luke 2:10-14

(This story is a daily devotional from the soon-to-be published Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Vietnam War.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Story from Vietnam

Silent Night (2)

Just before sunrise a torrential rain soaked the Marines and half-filled their foxholes with water. During the day temperatures soared above one hundred degrees, subjecting the men to a tropical steam bath and unremitting heat. As the sun set that evening, Navy corpsman Bob Dirr thought to himself that this was a heck of a way to spend Christmas Eve. He was on watch, leaning against the back of a muddy foxhole, trying to keep his feet out of the water. Arrayed around him were his medical bag, M-16, and three hundred rounds of ammo.
As he gazed at the North Star, he thought of another star long ago and of other Christmases from his past. His heart ached with loneliness as he thought of home and loved ones, and contemplated the desolation around him—no presents, no decorations—only doubts, if he would see another Christmas at home.
As he stared idly into the darkness, a green flare streaked across the sky, fired from a distant fire support base. Quickly, another flare went up, and then another. As he watched, the sky above the horizon was crisscrossed with red, blue, yellow, and green flares. Dirr glanced at the luminous dial on his watch. It was one minute after midnight—it was Christmas. Faintly at first, he heard singing in the distance. It grew louder as men along the line picked up the familiar melody. Soon, the hills resounded to the quiet but firm voices of hundreds of men. As tears ran down his face, the young corpsman joined the chorus:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. ~Luke 2:8-9

(This story is from soon-to-be published Battlefields & Blessings, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Vietnam War)

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Story from World War II

Silent Night
On December 24, 1942 the 7th Marine Regiment was relieved from the front line on Guadalcanal after 96 consecutive days of combat. Edward Andrusko and his battle-weary comrades marched to the relative safety of the beach area to wait for embarkation. That night he and many other Marines attended a memorable Christmas Eve service in a coconut grove beside Henderson Field. The makeshift altar was covered by a tent, and coconut logs served as pews. Bomb shelters were close at hand. Andrusko observed, “It was a beautiful service with candles, caroling, prayer for peace on Earth, and memorials to our dead and wounded.” Suddenly, however, the air raid warning sounded. The chaplain, a seasoned combat veteran himself, calmly asserted that he was going to continue with the service, but pointed to the air raid shelters for all who wanted to seek a safer place. Most of the Marines stayed in dark outdoor church, illuminated by a single candle. An amazing scene unfolded, as recounted by Andrusko:

Soon we heard the drone of enemy planes and the whistling of their bombs and explosions approaching closer and closer.
Instantly the dark night was brightly illuminated by our large searchlights . . . nearby batteries of our anti-aircraft cannons blasted away…The guns fired loudly and rapidly, and their high overhead explosion bursts would light up the sky…Our bright red tracers added to the awesome fireworks display. More bombs fell, but soon passed us by.
We sang “Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright,” as the enemy planes passed slowly overhead. After a while their bombs fell further and further away from us. Our prayers and carol singing must have been heard through the din of battle, and answered, for soon the all clear was sounded. No one was hurt at our church service. That was our first and last Christmas Eve midnight mass on Guadalcanal Island.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” ~Luke 2:9-11

(This story is a daily devotional from Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II, Page 428)

Friday, December 10, 2010


Lani and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Kiawah, where we had a few days together to reflect on the countless blessings of marriage and family. To commemorate the occasion we pledged to write lists of forty reasons why each of us loves the other. The idea was a little intimidating when we first discussed it, but I quickly found the task easy and fun. I finally had to edit down to keep my list at forty. It was an occasion to reflect back on our early days together, remembering that she had a Mustang when we met, that she told a Marine general that she would take care of ‘happy hour’ for her Marine, and how she waved her Redskin pennant in the midst of hostile Rams fans in the LA Colisieum. I remembered how she took charge and kept going during long separations. I recalled her heroic commitment to natural childbirth, motherhood, Outward Bound, mission trips to Egypt and Rwanda, and so much more.

In recalling these past events in our marriage, I couldn’t help remembering some of our fights and disagreements, although these have blessedly faded into the past. Our arguments seem to get ever shorter and shorter. At every stage of our marriage, we have tried to stay focused on our home, our children, and all the positive attributes that we love in each other. We have seen other couples focus on the things that irritate them and watched these irritants grow under constant scrutiny. In their wedding ceremonies, many couples include the oft-quoted scripture on love from First Corinthians. On our 40th anniversary we would like to take the opportunity to suggest that every couple make this passage a daily focus in building a stronger marriage:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Today is the day we remember Pearl Harbor. It is a day to remember the woeful lack of readiness on the part of political and military leaders who should have known better. Any degree of alertness, coupled with minimal dispersal of ships and aircraft could have saved countless lives and invaluable equipment. Pearl Harbor, the movie, was released in 2001. In a thoughtful review of the movie Ken James compared the state of military forces then to our spiritual condition now:

Being reminded of the true story behind Pearl Harbor I can’t help but think about the spiritual parallels. While the majority of people live their lives in relative peace, thinking everything is just fine, how many of us will be blindsided when death comes? And yes, I’m talking to churchgoers too. What have you done to ensure you are ready when the end comes? There’s a statistic that says death is 100% fatal. Sooner or later it’ll happen. I hope you have put your trust in Jesus Christ. He’s the only way to a bright eternity. Trusting in your own good works will get you nowhere. The USS Arizona and other members of the fleet at Pearl Harbor weren’t ready, and they sadly found that out too late.

Therefore keep watch. Because you do not know the day or the hour.
~ Matthew 25:13

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ ~ Matthew 25:34

(This story is an excerpt from Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World II, p. 46)